From My WindowIssue Date: May 6, 2020
Tougher Than They Seem
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
A few weeks into April, on one of our first mild spring days, I was walking in the woods when, to my utter shock, I saw a butterfly. There were no flowers out yet; in fact just days later we had another significant snowfall. But while I had already seen a few tiny moths, this was unmistakably a butterfly " about a three inch wingspan, and a strongly contrasted color pattern, although in muted tones, with the typical erratic flight.
I tried to get pictures but it easily eluded me. I had a fleeting moment of wonder tempered with pity for it, sure it wouldn't survive the nighttime temperatures or if it did, it would starve to death.
Then this week, on a Facebook site I frequent called "Wisconsin Wildlife Photography," there was proof of what I had seen " the exact same butterfly, photographed in Wisconsin. The post gave me the name of the species " "Mourning Cloak" butterfly or "Nymphalis Antiopa." It is native to not only North America but also Eurasia. In Britain it is called "Camberwell Beauty."
The species is noted for its unusual ability (for butterflies) to enter a state of deep dormancy to survive through winters as adults. It is due to this ability that they are almost always the first butterfly to appear in spring. (Most other butterflies overwinter as eggs or pupae.) Adult Mourning Cloaks feed on tree sap or rotting fruit like that found in early spring on the ground under apple trees. It readily eats nectar from flowers once they are available. Adult butterflies can live 10-11 months, and one source I looked at said it may be the United State's longest-lived butterfly. In comparison, the iconic and much-loved Monarchs only live two to six weeks!
It has rusty reddish brown or charcoal over most of the wings, a gold or yellow border around the wings, and a row of iridescent blue spots at the inner edge of the border. It is this muted color that led to the name Mourning Cloak " after the dark colors traditionally worn by those grieving a death. Their wingspan is up to four inches wide.
Luckily, this butterfly, unlike our familiar Monarchs and nearly all other butterflies, is considered to have a stable population, and is widespread across our country.
Even with all this butterfly's superb adaptations " adult winter dormancy, alternative spring food sources and long life, it would seem its early appearance would make it an energetic target for the hungry birds, reptiles and amphibians that prey on it. It's highly visible in the early spring woods with no foliage to conceal it in flight, but it is able to camouflage itself well when resting on bark with its wings folded.
I enjoyed finding out more about this unusual butterfly species. Mother Nature is truly incredible, and even her most fragile-appearing creations are remarkably complex.
I draw inspiration and optimism from sharing life in my little patch of woods with the fascinating creatures such as the Mourning Cloak. Like them, we humans are adaptable, strong and resilient; it is important to remember that as we slowly work our way through this pandemic. We too are endowed with tools to help us get through the hard times and thrive again " intelligence, flexibility, creativity and cooperation among them. We too, are tougher than we seem " especially when we work in peaceful collaboration.
Going way back for "song stuck in my head" " "I'd Love to Change the World," by Ten Years After. Some relevant thoughts, plus an absolutely killer guitar player.
Happy birthday to my father in heaven. I know the pandemic would cause him to reflect deeply and thoughtfully " but his sense of humor would also cause him to quip "They did a study, and found that beer kills this virus immediately!" Those of you who knew my dad would understand.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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